I’ve recently been getting quite a few questions on either my Wednesday Q&A grid post or my Thursday Instagram stories Q&A about how to set-up babies for sleep training and if there’s anything that can be done to help them before they can properly start sleep training.
So I thought I’d do a quick blog post about what we call ‘Sleep Shaping.’ This is basically helping to setup babies with some lovely little habits and routines before they can start sleep training at around 18-20 weeks old.
1- Set them up with an E.A.S.Y routine. This means: Eat, Activity, Sleep, You-time-
Eat- Whether they are breast-fed or formula fed, I always recommend families to try to fit in their feeds either at either the start of their routine or upon waking after a nap. This is simply to try to not set-up a feeding-to-sleep association which can then be harder to break further down the line. This is especially helpful for babies with reflux as they then have some time help upright before being placed down to sleep.
Activity- This can be a short book, playing with some toys in their cot/Moses basket or can even just be them being burped after their feed. We are just looking for something to do for a couple of minutes after their feed to also help break the feeding-to-sleep association.
Sleep- It’s now time for sleep! If they are still awake by this point, you can try putting them straight into their cot and see how they respond. Best case scenario, they fall asleep themselves without any help! They may whinge a bit and then manage to fall asleep themselves, or this slight whinge may then turn into a full cry and they’ll need to be picked up. All of these are absolutely okay! The aim is just to practice putting them down awake but drowsy to just start teaching them to self-settle. If they need to be picked up and patted/rocked/cuddled to sleep before being placed down, it is fine and please don’t put worry if your little one still needs this help. Whether they fall asleep completely by themselves or completely with help, it is still fine and nothing to worry about at all!
You-time- Time to relax while your baby sleeps. If you’ve had a long night and need to “sleep while baby sleeps”, now is obviously the time to do this. You may want to have a quick cuppa and then crack on with the laundry or sit down to catch up with your favourite Netflix show. Just have some time to yourself as your mental health is equally as important as your baby’s sleep.
2- Keep eye on their wakeful windows-
From newborn age to 3 months, babies can only manage about 45-90 mins awake time between their naps- this is what we call their Wakeful Window and will increase more and more as they get older. It’s important to try to keep an eye on these windows and to not exceed them. This can ten lead to overtiredness which can make it harder for children to settle to sleep as easily.
3- Set up a simple bedtime routine
From a few weeks old, you can start setting up a basic bedtime routine to help them wind down and know that it’s soon time for sleep. This could be something like: feed, bath, massage, PJs on, book/song and then bed. They may still be very young but their brains are like sponges so they’ll soon be able to associate this routine with it being time for bed. Having a shortened version of this bedtime routine (i.e the EASY routine) will help link it together so they’ll start to recognise the same cues you are using for both naps and their main bedtime.
4- Go easy on yourself
You can still make great even if you just trying doing all of these 2 tips but for just one nap a day. Sleep Shaping is not about getting your newborn baby to self-settle for every nap and sleep through the night. It’s just setting up some little cues and routines that your baby will start to recognise and which can then help with them learning the skill of self-settling when they’re a bit older. So start with just trying these tips for 1 nap a day until you build up the confidence to try it more.
They may get agitated if they’re put down awake but drowsy but just try to reassure them while they are still in the cot. It’s still good practice for them to be introduced to their sleep space and giving them an opportunity to self-settle even if just for a minute. If it gets too stressful for either of you, pick them up and do what you usually do to get them to sleep. There really is no pressure with Sleep Shaping!
So enjoy the newborn period with all the cuddles and snuggles it entails. And if you want to, just add in these basic routines to start them recognising these bedtime cues which will help them be ready for sleep training when they’re a bit older and hopefully make your life a bit easier!